[Reviewed by Matt Baxter]
Beyond the bright lights and champagne toasts of the Kentucky Derby and other big time horse racing events are smaller, dingier, less attended, and seemingly more dangerous races known as claiming races. These are the races that populate Jaimy Gordon’s novel Lord of Misrule.
Claiming races are those where the horses are up for sale until shortly before the race. Title to the horse transfers just before the start of the race, but the previous owner is entitled to any purse that results from the horse’s performance. Within each race the horses are priced similarly, in theory preventing a higher class equine from easily beating the field. Its owner would, presumably, not want it to be sold for less than its value.
Into this world Gordon inserts a host of characters, heroic and unsavory. They are hard lived or hard working, and sometimes both. Lowlifes, miscreants, and outright criminals make trouble in and around Indian Mound Downs in West Virginia, a horse track where owners seem to go when they have nowhere else to race.
Tommy and Maggie arrive at Indian Mound hoping for a quick and easy score. The track denizens—the groom, blacksmith, an old gypsy lady, and others—get caught up in the act as Tommy tries to beat the system and Maggie bides her time until she can get on with her life on her own terms. Little does she realize how attached she will become to the horses.